How did you get into running?
My name is Ali Abbas Hirji and I have been actively running for the past 5 years. I am asthmatic and suffer from a lung condition that severely impacts my lung capacity so much so that I have been told that I have the lungs of a 60 year old chain smoker, without ever having picked up a cigarette. It is for this reason, combined with my lifestyle as an IT consultant of travelling frequently and spending a lot of time like many in front of a screen, that I have always been motivated to do some kind of exercise where I am able to maintain and enhance my physical ability that may help in countering my disability. I have been doing this by attending the gym for over a decade now and working out at a pace that suits me. I found running on the treadmill a very good way of doing cardio activity in a controlled way and I was able to build up my run time and pace over a period of time.
I do however remember watching Eliud Kipchoge winning the Marathon in the 2016 Olympics whilst simultaneously running on the treadmill. This to me was a real inspirational moment and I was determined to transition from the treadmill to outdoors. At first this was very difficult and I would struggle running a short distance without the need to stop. I was determined to run a 10k and enlisted one that was about 2 months away giving me a target. Following the couch to 10k method and training every other day I slowly found my pace and bult up the stamina to successfully complete the 10k, vowing never again. But as many will tell you, running is an addiction and I ended running the same race again the following year and have since completed three half marathons with the grace of the Almighty. Running has changed my life and although I know I won’t be breaking any records anytime soon, I have broken many personal milestones that I never thought were even possible given my lung condition.
What do you enjoy about running?
As Khojas we have been blessed with an amazing rich variety of cuisines and unfortunately in this day and age it is difficult to eat what you like without feeling guilty, so firstly I enjoy my food and run to counter those guilty pleasures!
The reason I enjoy running is a sense of achievement after every single run, the feeling of battling my fears and the endless excuses circulating in my head before I set off. I tend to run in the morning and this serves as an effective way to start the day, being able to be at one with my thoughts and mentally prepare myself for the day ahead. I also try and use the most nature inspiring routes which help in appreciating the endless bounties of Allah (S.W.T) including the ability he has given me to run. The flexibility of running is also something that is good, requiring very little prep or equipment and can be done at any time, although I feel that mentally preparing myself for a run is a big motivator in actually doing it. I have also noticed that a run helps me open up my lungs and breathe more easily throughout the day.
What are the challenges you find with running?
My lung condition makes running a challenge, every run is different and I find improving on my race time is difficult because of this. I do however feel that there is a bigger challenge and that is of mindset; I liken running to Fajr salah, the hardest battle is removing yourself from the comfort of the bed, as is taking the first step out of the front door on that frosty morning, but once you have done that, the rest is considerably easier. On a more general note I find keeping up the momentum challenging especially with a two year old so I have recently joined the SJ Running team and this has helped in meeting people of all abilities who share my joy of running and this helps in keeping some form of momentum going.
Advice for aspiring runners?
My advice in general is not to discount running without giving it a real go, set yourself targets and at least initially do it wholeheartedly, once you gain momentum and overcome the mental barrier it becomes a lot easier to maintain and a good platform to then grow. My second advice would be to take things at your own pace, we are all different and struggle and excel in very different ways and whilst others can be a source of inspiration you are only competing against yourself and your own misconceptions about what is possible and what is not.
What is your proudest running moment?
My proudest moment was my second half marathon which I did in aid of Kidney Care and NWL Kidney patient association in support of kidney patients like my father who suffered for over a decade. He had a lot of support from the healthcare system and I felt it was a good way to give something back. The run become even more memorable after sadly losing dad only 6 months later, he taught me a lot about the power of mental strength and I am so glad that I was able to do this for a cause that I know meant a lot to him.